Rohit Raju is a decade-plus in to his career in professional wrestling and the desire to get better, improve and reach new heights is something that he is determined to attain and make a reality. The Desi Hit Squad member is also known as Hakim Zane on the independent scene where he is the current AAW Heritage Champion. In several ways, Hakim Zane differs from the Rohit Raju character that he plays on IMPACT. Hakim is more than often seen with a microphone in his hand and Raju himself feels that the ability and freedom that he has with the microphone while under the “Hakim Zane” name is what separates the two characters.
As mentioned, he is the current AAW Heritage Champion and he retained that title this past January at AAW’s ‘A New Dawn’ show by defeating Chicago own’s PACO. There are a handful of wrestlers that I’ve spoken to who’ve competed or are still competing in AAW and they’ve all spoken highly of the promotion and provided multiple reasons as to why it is viewed as one of the top independent promotions and has been around for as long as it has. Rohit talked about some of the names that have come through the promotion such as The Young Bucks, Pentagon Jr. and Fenix, Seth Rollins and Ruby Riott. He added that he appreciates the promotion for giving him the platform to show what he can do and that he’s more than what meets the eye when it comes to his IMPACT Wrestling persona.
“Yeah, it’s by far the biggest promotion in the Midwest,” Rohit told POST Wrestling during an exclusive interview. “It’s so big that when The Young Bucks wanted to hype up their feud with the Lucha Bros. right before AEW got started, they did it there. They did it there at AAW and they showed up unannounced. The crowd, it just went insane, and then when ACH came back after he left WWE, he showed up unannounced. Just showed up at AAW. The pop for that was huge, and then, Cody Rhodes has been there and the names that you’ve seen pass through there — Seth Rollins, he was one of their champions for a long time. Ruby Riott, she’s been there. Colt Cabana frequents there a lot. Like I said, Cody Rhodes, The Bucks, Lucha Bros. All those guys, top names go through there so being able to be one of their champions right now and have such free reign on their stage means a lot to me because it gets a lot of eyes so, and it also gives the chance to me to show the world that I’m more than what you see on TV so it feels really good.”
While on the topic of IMPACT Wrestling, Rohit Raju praised a fellow roster member in current IMPACT World Tag Team Champion Ethan Page. The topic of conversation during this point of the interview was about the use of social media and how the tool can be effective and beneficial to one’s career. Raju brought up Ethan Page because Page has created a successful YouTube channel, has a great rapport with fans and dubbed him as one of the best businessmen in the sport.
“I use Ethan Page [as an example]. He’s such a… to me, he’s one of the best businessmen in professional wrestling. He has — with his vlogs, he has a great rapport with fans, people wanna know what he’s doing, they pay attention to what he’s doing and he has turned it into a business and now he’s making money off of wrestling, and he has his own promotion, he’s one-half of the current IMPACT Tag Team Champions which they’re a great tag team. So he knows how to play the game.”
Rohit sees Page as one of the top businessmen in wrestling but one man that he looks to for advice is his Desi Hit Squad group member, 40 year veteran of the business and former WWC Caribbean Heavyweight Champion Gama Singh. Gama currently manages the IMPACT Wrestling faction and has been a part of the group since it came to fruition.
Rohit feels that Gama is a hidden gem in professional wrestling and praised Gama for his stories and also shared that Gama can still go in the ring in his 60s. Rohit recalled when he wrestled Gama in New York and was surprised at how smooth Gama still moved around the ring. There are other elements of Gama Singh that impressed Raju as well, such as Gama being able to cut a promo in Spanish.
“Well, let’s call it how it is, one of my favorite things about being in the Desi Hit Squad is being with Gama. I absolutely love Gama. I try to listen to every single podcast, I love his stories. He has some great stories. The man is a hidden gem in professional wrestling. He’s also a really good worker. I had the chance to work with him in New York and he’s like, ‘Um, I can’t really do much’ and this, that and the other and I’m like, ‘Okay. Well, we’ll just do this, this and this.’ We go out there, we do the lockup, he swings into the hammerlock, then to the headlock, does the whole swing around, gets me back in the headlock then hits me in the face. He does it so effortlessly, so smooth. The crowd starts chanting, ‘You still got it’ because no one expects this from Gama. You know what I mean? And I literally start smiling in the ring, because I’m like, ‘You son of a b*tch. You can still work’, and I just thought it was awesome and we go to Mexico and they ask him to cut this promo and he’s like, ‘I don’t really speak Spanish.’ He goes out there and cuts the whole promo in Spanish which has the fans eating out of his hand, and it’s just like man, it’s insane.”
The Desi Hit Squad has had its ups and downs. Forming in 2017 and having several different variations, the group hadn’t been able to find its footing but as of recently, they have hit their stride. Bhupinder, Raj, Mahabali Shera and Gursinder Singh have all been a part of Desi Hit Squad along with Gama and Rohit. Gursinder, also known as Tony Cage publicly announced in April of 2019 that he requested his release from IMPACT. Mahabali Shera departed from IMPACT in 2017 to join WWE’s NXT brand and after a year-long stint in the sports-entertainment company, Shera returned to IMPACT Wrestling. Raj Singh is currently out of action with a knee injury, Rohit Raju confirmed. Rohit gave a detailed recount of the ups and downs of Desi Hit Squad and here’s how he began:
“The Desi Hit Squad has been a real weird journey. I love being at IMPACT. I never thought I would be there. There was a time I was working a 40 hour — actually it was 45 hours a week at my job, full-time job, trying to wrestle, using all my vacation time for wrestling, and I’ll never forget when Scott D’Amore was like, ‘There’s no way you’re gonna make it. You can’t do both,’ and I said, ‘Well I’m at least gonna try’ and I ended up winning the Global Forged thing and then, I stepped down at my job or whatever and I wrestle now. So it’s such a good feeling that, like you were saying, staying the course and making it. When I first got there, I was Hakim Zane and they wanted to do something with an Indian group and I think they had the plan, but the execution just wasn’t there. So they announced all these people who they had planned being in the Desi Hit Squad but, they didn’t have anybody, and one of the people they announced was green as green. He was still having to train. He’s still training, Bhupinder [Singh], really good. He’s only been wrestling for like a year. He’s had a handful of matches and I’m sure you’ve seen him on TV, really good kid. Super green, but man, he’s gonna be phenomenal. He’s gonna be phenomenal when he’s done. They’ve got Gama, they didn’t have Raj [Singh] at the time and [they] had signed Gursinder, but nothing was official, and then they had me. So it ended up just being me at first, and they had me as a babyface, and then I don’t think they really knew what they wanted to do. They brought in Gursinder, and then we ended up being a heel tag, and it was weird because I was a babyface one week and then the next week we had recorded stuff and I was teaming up with him and we were heel, and it was rough at first because all the tag teams that were in IMPACT at the time had been working together for years, and then [Gursinder] and I get together and we’re trying to figure out each other’s style, how the other one moves and all this stuff and he lives in Toronto and I was in Michigan and we were pretty far away so we didn’t have a place to meet. We were trying to get booked on shows together so we could get more ring time, and then we started to gel a little bit and then he ends up leaving. He ends up leaving so it was just like, ‘Okay, well there’s that’ and then they bring in Raj, and so we’re right back to square one and then Raj and I have to learn how to gel, and Raj, he was out for a while. He was trying to get in the WWE at the time. He wasn’t really wrestling, he was trying to keep himself healthy, but he wasn’t getting any ring work so he has to knock the ring rust off so at this time, we’re trying to work and literally the first time he comes in the ring, he gives me the gut buster and when he pressed me, he blew his shoulder out, and it was in New York when I was wrestling Gama. So, we’re already limited there so we’re like, ‘Man, what a freak accident.’ So we’re trying to gel and so, they’re not gonna get behind us until we start gelling so we’re pretty much IMPACT job guys at the time trying to get experience and trying to gel as a tag team and then we finally started to gel a little bit.
We had the thing with The Deaners, which was cool. That was fun, and then we finally started to gel and again, we were up and down, up and down, up and down and then they brought in [Mahabali] Shera. So that was cool, and now, finally, we’re really starting to build some momentum then of course Raj gets hurt. His knee is jacked up right now so he’s out, so now it’s Shera and I. So now, Shera and I are trying to figure out how to gel. So it’s like man, its never really taken off. As soon as it starts to take off, something happens and we’re right back to square one so its been more lows than it has been highs.”
At IMPACT Wrestling’s ‘Rebellion’ pay-per-view in April of 2019, Rohit Raju took on current NXT talent Scarlett Bordeaux. There are varying opinions about inter-gender wrestling but Rohit feels that everything within professional wrestling has its own place. He specifically mentioned Joey Ryan and Ryan’s d*ck-flip spots and how that has its place in wrestling and while some may not enjoy it, there are some that do. Rohit then began talking about the current IMPACT World Champion Tessa Blanchard and how her style of wrestling helps ease the criticisms of inter-gender wrestling.
“I think it has its place. Everything in professional wrestling has its place. Joey Ryan d*ck-flipping people has a place in professional wrestling. It’s just where you do it and how you do it. Me versus Scarlett, she was out there body slamming me and gorilla pressing me and stuff like that. It had its place. I thought we told a really good story. I was a big piece of trash, I was bitter, I was jealous she was getting all this attention and she was a rocket ship. She was taking off, but then you compare someone like Scarlett and then you look at Tessa [Blanchard]. Look at how Tessa wrestles. Tessa wrestles, and [taking away] nothing from Scarlett, I think she’s amazing but Tessa wrestles like an athlete. She has a very aggressive style. So there’s a difference.”
This coming April, IMPACT Wrestling is bringing back TNA Wrestling for their ‘TNA Wrestling: There’s No Place Like Home’ show on April 3rd as a part of WrestleCon in Tampa, Florida. The company has already announced Chris Sabin, Disco Inferno, D’Lo Brown, Ken Anderson, Scott Steiner, Petey Williams, “Wildcat” Chris Harris, Amazing Red and an Ultimate X match has been confirmed for the event.
When asked who he would like to see at the event, Rohit Raju stated that he’d like to see the return of Monty Brown. Both Brown and Raju hail from the state of Michigan and they chat it up when they run into each other. Rohit said that Monty’s eyes light up whenever they talk about wrestling and while he isn’t sure if Monty will be appearing at the show or not, he has told him about it and is hoping that “The Alpha Male” will make his return to IMPACT Wrestling.
“I honestly would just love to get mic time against Monty Brown. I hope Monty comes back. I talked to him, I told him about it. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I hope they get him. Monty and I stay in the same city so I’ve known him for quite some time and he’s been a big help in my career as far as just giving me pointers but I think he’s a very underrated wrestler as far as — especially his promos. A lot of people don’t remember his promos and his promos were some of the best in wrestling and I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for what he was doing back then, and the man is still as big as a house. Huge! Just a giant of a man so, I hope he goes back and I hope he cuts a bad ass promo, lights it on fire and people are like, ‘Man, Monty Brown… he’s awesome.’” Rohit is asked if Monty is interested in coming back, “That I don’t know. I know Monty and anytime I see him and we start talking wrestling, his eyes light up. You can see that fire in him so I don’t think it ever goes away. I don’t know. I can’t speak for him on that part. I have no idea. I just hope he does as a fan, and also, I hope he does because that was the guy that was doing the pounce before everybody else was so let’s give credit where credit’s due.”
With a decade-plus of experience under his belt, Raju still has plenty more that he wants to accomplish in wrestling but he does have plans for his post-in-ring career. He says that he can see himself training or producing and added that he does have prior training experience. Rohit also stated that by the time he wraps up his career, he hopes to have built up enough recognition to open up a wrestling school and help train the next generation of athletes.
“Yeah, I love training. I used to do Wing Chun Kung fu for like ten years and then I was training people in that for a while. I dabbled in mixed martial arts for a long time and then I would help train people with the grappling and the striking and stuff so, training people in professional wrestling, that’s something I’d love to do when it’s all said and done. I honestly would like to make a bigger name for myself like you were saying. I still have a lot to prove. I know what I can do and what I’m capable of so I kind of have that chip on my shoulder and I wanna get that good run before it’s all said and done. Wrestling doesn’t owe anybody anything but I do — I’m working my ass off to get it. I want to get that good run and that recognition and then when it’s all said and done, hopefully I built up a good brand for myself to where I can open up a school and train people. I would love to do that. I love coaching people and helping ‘em out and when young people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, can you watch my match?’ It makes me feel great because they actually look at you like something. Like your opinion is worth a damn so it makes me feel good and it’s just like being a fan of anything. You can pick out the flaws, the do’s and don’ts, the pros and cons so, I enjoy doing it. Definitely can see myself doing that.”
Rohit Raju is gearing up for his first WrestleMania week as an in-ring performer and before that, he’ll be present at AAW’s ‘The Art Of War’ show on February 21st as the promotion’s Heritage Champion. To keep up with everything Rohit Raju, he can be found on Twitter @HakimZane and on Instagram @rajuzane80. To check out our full interview, head over to the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel.